Yet Louisiana's Legislature depends on stamps and postmen for making major policy decisions.
It often votes by mail, allowing correspondence to trump traditional debate. House and Senate staffers, in fact, spent most of last week stamping and counting mail ballots that proposed initial funding for the state's housing program.
They usually don't receive much press coverage and aren't treated with the same reverence as session votes, but these postal proxies are meaningful and do result in real government action. Year-to-date, through the first week of August, lawmakers have been asked to vote by mail on nine ballot issues since 2004 ' not including an emergency vote taken earlier this year to hold elections in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans.
But a public information request for the mail-ballot results reveals a participation rate that fluctuates from merely average to well below par. Additionally, the mail votes are not afforded the same standards as session votes when it comes to public access. They are not published in the Legislature's online database or in the official journal.
This lack of alternative record keeping can have repercussions. For instance, the state Senate was unable to find any recorded votes for a 2005 mail ballot where lawmakers decided against holding a veto session. Glenn Koepp, secretary of the Senate, says the ballots, as well as the tally sheet showing who voted how, were likely misplaced when being moved from one office to another.
"We tore this place apart looking for it," he says. "I think we just lost it."
The way this process and the votes are treated by the Legislature is more important than ever because mail ballots are about to increase. Legislative approval will be needed when the Louisiana Recovery Authority wants to spend more than $10 million. The LRA was formed last year following Katrina and Rita as a clearinghouse for federal money and other rebuilding issues.
House Clerk Butch Speer says the change could translate into roughly seven more mail ballots each year. This month alone, his staff will administer two LRA ballots on housing and labor. "We're going to be seeing a lot more of them," he says.
Traditionally, lawmakers have only voted by mail on two topics: whether to hold a veto session to overturn the governor's choices and to ratify certain actions by the Interim Emergency Board. The IEB handles emergency expenses that lawmakers don't plan for during the budgeting process. On a regular basis, the board asks lawmakers to approve appropriations, ranging in recent years from lock repairs for Acadiana to storm recovery money for Golden Meadow.
Brenda Erickson, a senior research analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures, says lawmakers voting by mail when not in session is a new one for her ' even though it has been a Louisiana practice for decades. "Generally, members of legislatures are expected to be present to vote, but there are a few exceptions," Erickson says. "As a rule of thumb, though, most legislatures don't allow remote voting."
When it comes to actually returning the mail ballots back to Baton Rouge, lawmakers have differing records. According to the ballots provided by Speer's office, Rep. Cedric Richmond, a New Orleans Democrat, has the worst voting record ' by mail ' in the entire Legislature. Richmond doesn't have a single recorded vote on any of the ballots. When questioned, he suggests the tally sheets are "incorrect" and should be double-checked.
"I remember filling those ballots out," Richmond says.
He also argues that three of his votes on past veto sessions didn't have to be sent in, which is technically true. Voting on veto sessions is a tricky business. The law states that veto sessions are automatically held following a legislative session unless a majority of lawmakers return ballots calling it off. That means an absent vote on the tally sheet could either mean a lawmaker was in favor of a veto session, or he didn't bother voting at all. Staffers admit it's a confusing process and not very effective in determining where elected officials stand.
A few other members of the lower chamber trail Richmond in his voting record. Rep. Cedric Glover, a Democrat running for mayor of Shreveport, missed all but two of the regular mail ballots since 2004, as did Rep. Pete Schneider, a Republican from Slidell. On the Senate side, Sen. Max Malone, a Shreveport Republican, and Sen. Cleo Fields, a Baton Rouge Democrat, both have no recorded votes on four ballots.
Overall, the 39-member Senate has an average voting record by mail that runs parallel to session-only votes. About five senators per mail ballot have no recorded votes, representing 12 percent of the body. The House posts even more dismal numbers: an average 23 lawmakers, out of 105, don't vote at all on regular mail ballots, whether it's by mistake or otherwise.
Both Speer and Koepp say there hasn't been an overwhelming interest by lawmakers in reforming the way mail ballots are handled, from increasing public access to making veto session ballots more user-friendly. Unless the House and Senate do pass rules altering the way the process works, the only thing that will change is the number of ballots being mailed out. And for now, that's the only thing that can be expected.
"I have no plans and know of no plans to change anything," Speer says.
Despite sweeping changes enacted by Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration, the health insurance program for state workers and public school employees will have to use $88 million from its reserve fund to cover its costs this year.
The LPSB races are sure to get heated between now and Nov. 4, and with only 9 available seats, this year's field of 20 candidates will surely be wanting to set themselves apart from the crowd early; they'll get their chance next week, starting Tuesday with the kick-off of a three-day series of candidate forums.
Lawmakers say they've received complaints that waits have spiked, with people being forced to wait in line for more than an hour — and sometimes three hours — to handle routine tasks.
The campaign announced that Rep. Stuart Bishop of District 43 and Nancy Landry, District 31, have thrown their support behind the Naval Academy graduate and entrepreneur in his bid to unseat current Hunter Beasley in District 8.
A Lafayette man with an alleged taste for child porn was busted Thursday evening during a cyber crime sting launched by the Attorney General’s Office.
U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister says his chief of staff is on temporary leave after being booked with drunken driving.
It was a rare moment in Congress this week as Republicans briefly put aside partisanship in support of President Barack Obama's request to train and arm Syrian rebels, and while a number of Democrats opposed the measure, Louisiana's Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu found herself on the same side of the issue as her Republican challenger Rep. Bill Cassidy.
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Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
City-Parish President Joey Durel is asking the council to sign off on a resolution approving a pair of deals that would lead to razing the seedy Lesspay Motel at Four Corners to build a new police substation as well as transforming nearly a block Downtown where the old federal courthouse building now molders into a mixed-use development.
In 2013, the IRS — already the least popular governmental agency in the country — became the target of intense investigations after it was revealed that they had specifically and improperly scrutinized applications for tax-exempt status from organizations associated with the nascent Tea Party movement.
Improving the running game was "a point of emphasis" during the offseason and the results have manifested themselves in the form of substantially greater production.
Louisiana's health department said Wednesday that its evaluation of the state's Medicaid privatization was on target, despite criticism from the legislative auditor that it lacked key data and contained inconsistencies.
The feds converge on your office, seizing records on several employees as part of a pay-for-plea investigation. WWYD? If you’re Mike Harson, you give yourself a $12k raise.
It’s football season and after back-to-back winless weekends for the Saints and the Cajuns many citizens are finding it difficult to be civil much less happy. Well, chew on this.
Considering his repeated stays in the local penal system, David Narcisse Jr. should have known that having a semiautomatic shotgun, even one given to him by a friend, wasn’t the brightest of ideas.
A state district judge on Tuesday threw out a last-minute retirement hike lawmakers gave to the state police superintendent, ending a political firestorm over a pension boost passed without public scrutiny on the last day of the legislative session.
The House has passed a bill to increase oversight of veterans' hospitals under construction, following a report that some medical centers take three years longer to complete than estimated and cost an extra $366 million per project.
An obvious follow-up question for any Republican politician who accuses Democrats of being science deniers is one about science, to which Jindal bobbed and weaved like a welterweight champ.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council is expected to decide tonight (Tuesday) whether to go along with a proposal City-Parish President Joey Durel made in February’s State of the Parish Address and consolidate taxes for mosquito control and the parish health units into a broader tax program that would also cover animal control.
U.S. District Judge Richard Haik has dismissed Greg Davis’ lawsuit against the LPSB, yet in his ruling, the federal judge doesn’t bite his tongue in pointing out the "threat" being posed by certain board members.
Of all the political offices being contested throughout Lafayette Parish, the race for Broussard’s top police post has literally become one of the most heated.
A state district judge is deciding whether to issue an injunction against the enforcement of a last-minute retirement hike that lawmakers gave to the state police superintendent.
A new website is up for Louisiana's state government employees and retirees to choose their health insurance plans for next year, a choice they must make by October.
That fact that New Orleans led both games in the final 10 seconds of regulation, and lost each by a field goal or less, is of little solace.